International Design in Government Conference

07 Aug 2018 - Vicky Teinaki

In July, Orange Bus’ Senior User Experience Designer, Vicky Teinaki, attended the International Design in Government conference in London. In this blog, she outlines the key themes from the event.

The International Design in Government conference took place on 17 and 18 July in a tropical London. Government representatives from Singapore to Switzerland gathered to share their success stories, tips and inspiration. The aim of the conference is to “bring together government designers from around the world” and it did just that with 260 public service professionals from 26 countries across the world joining together to put design at the heart of governments across the globe.

We move at the speed of trust

My new favourite design phrase came from Chris Govias, Chief of Design for the Canadian Digital Service: ‘we move at the speed of trust’. He was speaking about how a ‘government design agency’ must remember to bring stakeholders along with them, and a number of speakers spoke to variations on this theme.

Being a multiplier

Michelle Thong, Service Innovation Lead at the City of San Jose (where the digital strategy team ‘fits in an elevator’) spoke about how to be a multiplier. The phrase comes from the book of the same name by Liz Wiseman. The book uses the phrase to explain how some teams achieve more than others, as some leaders multiply their team’s capability and intelligence, while others, who she calls ‘diminishers’, diminish them.

Thong’s team looks for ways to be multipliers and help teams be self-sustaining. One tip she shared was to help teams set their own metrics for success. This means that there are some problems they should be able to self-correct, rather than have to be saved from.

Multiplying also refers to coaching others to do things like user research. Thong has had to become less precious about the end quality. Still, she points out that this doesn’t replace having experienced user researchers.

User centred design and design thinking

Arianne Miller from The Lab at the US Office of Personnel Management, and Matthew Ford of the Office of Customer Experience for the U.S. General Services Administration, spoke about their experiences running user centred design training workshops. They’ve found that they’re a great tool for testing if a department is ready to embrace design thinking and build design capacity. They do have to be framed as training with some form of deliverables - sometimes the best value they provide is actually getting people together in a room to talk!

Policy Lab in the UK are also investigating how policy can use design thinking. They’ve created prompts cards from user research that let stakeholders come to the conclusions at their own pace.

Inspiring, joined-up work is happening

Joining things up is hard. However, there were inspiring examples:

Small but meaningful wins

All of the success stories are inspiring. However, many processes won’t be changed for a while. Because of this, the stories of small but meaningful design interventions were great.

For example, EU Directives are a long form process that can take years - the Single Digital Gateway directive that the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) have been involved with was comparatively quick at 3 years. As the process is largely consultancy rather than user based, the UK representatives from GOV.UK Verify (including Tim Ady, Head of Interaction Design, Senior User Researcher, Mansoor Mir and Head of Service Design, Martin Jordan) looked for ways to try and bring user centred design into a complicated process.


One example of this was doing quick prototypes to see if an idea of if putting links to a policy on a service start page would be of use to citizens. They found out that their hypotheses were wrong!

Arianne Miller and Matthew Ford also gave an example of finding a better way for government vendors to comment on statements of work. They printed out the statements of work on big sheets of paper and put them on a wall. Vendors could then leave comments on the paper.

Learning from different countries

The unique situations of different countries means they face different challenges. Examples of this included:

  • Canada Digital Service making a push to get past “the gravitational pull of the status quo”. They’re aiming to do user research with First Nations communities by hiring First Nations user researchers.
  • Taiwan tweaking foreign design tools to make sense in their culture. “Problem” and “question” are the same word in Mandarin so they renamed their “problem mapping” tool to “issue mapping”.
  • Estonia pushing to see if they could get rid of the plastic drivers licence and instead have the police use a database (and finding out the answer was ‘not yet’).

Final notes

Lou Downe, Director of Design and Service Standards for the UK Government, believes that design rather than technology will be the future of government transformation. While it’s early days for government to be able to share with each other (there were stories of how hard it is to share data across departments, let alone governments) the conference was an inspiring experience, and hopefully the start of more gov design conferences to come.

To find out more about how Orange Bus works with public sector organisations to improve the usability of their digital solutions, click here.

Check out more photos from the conference via the link here.

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